Fake Engine Noise Could Lead to Improved Fuel Economy

2016_ford_focus

Shifting by ear is one of the great pleasures of driving.

For many drivers, accelerating out of a turn and shifting from second to third just as the engine reaches its peak is a feeling bested only by knowing it’ll happen again when it’s time to shift into fourth.

The only problem with shifting by ear is that it doesn’t correlate with what’s best for delivering optimal fuel economy.

That’s being addressed by Ford in new technology that includes fake engine sounds, which the automaker hopes to use to fool drivers into shifting earlier, thus providing better fuel efficiency.

Fake engine noises shouldn’t come as any surprise because many automakers, from Ford to Volkswagen, have been faking, or at least enhancing, engine noises for years.

Volkswagen, for instance, found itself in some controversy in 2012 when Car and Driver claimed the automaker used a device called the Soundaktor to play pre-recorded audio of engine noises under certain throttle applications. Volkswagen rebuffed and said the technology merely amplifies actual engine noises inside the cabin and doesn’t use any pre-recorded audio. This YouTube video from 2012 shows the difference between Soundaktor being activated and bypassed:

Engines are getting smaller and more fuel efficient, but buyers still expect to hear the gas-guzzling sounds of the cars they grew up with. The enhanced sounds provide a good way for people to experience the best of both worlds. Ford, though, is going a step further with a new patent filed for its small turbocharged engines.

The American automaker has found that many drivers “shift by ear” rather than watching the tachometer, and since these smaller engines make less noise, ideal shift points are being missed. This particular patent will virtually increase the cylinder count, making the smaller engine sound larger with artificial noises in hopes that drivers shift sooner.

The technology could be used to virtually increase the cylinder count two- or three fold and Ford believes it will be most beneficial on its smaller turbocharged two- and three-cylinder engines with manual transmissions.

The Ford Fiesta and Focus are the only two vehicles in the U.S. available with the 1.0-liter 3-cylinder EcoBoost engine. Both cars are estimated to get over 30 miles per gallon in the city, but, with Ford’s help, owners may be able to do just a little better than that.

What’s your take on fake engine noise?

-tgriffith

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